Word of mouth marketing (WOM) has always been among the most effective forms of marketing for many small businesses. And since social media has made networking and generating WOM referrals online easier than ever, we thought we’d take a look at ways to network and generate word of mouth referrals offline as well.
WOM takes effort. Networking and creating positive word of mouth referrals offline doesn’t just happen overnight for most businesses. It takes a concerted effort and plenty of nurturing along the way to have a real impact on your bottom line. So here are some tried and true ways to help your business create a better community presence and generate more WOM referrals:
1) Work your network. Join a networking group such as your local chamber of commerce, trade organizations or fraternal organizations such as the Optimists, Rotary, Lions and others. They are a great way to meet people, make contacts and open doors beyond your limited circle of friends and partners. Attend as many luncheons, socials and seminars as you can to help establish your local community presence—and don’t forget to bring plenty of business cards.
2) Partner up. Pay attention to businesses that have the same target audience as you and offer to partner with them and promote each other. For example, if you’re a photographer that works with families and children, find a kids’ dance studio or children’s clothing store owner who would be willing to cross promote with you. Leave business cards at each other’s businesses or work a trade out which could be very beneficial for both of you.
3) Present workshops or seminars. Host workshops, lessons, seminars or give free presentations on subjects within your realm of expertise. All of these will make you a perceived expert in your field because you’re offering free, helpful insights and solutions to the community (and potential referrals). Remember, this isn’t an opportunity to sell or make a pitch. This is an opportunity to become a trusted resource in the community. When there is a need for you in the future, you are likely to be the first call.
4) Get listed in local directories. Get your business listed in community directories, publications and even neighborhood newsletters. When the need arises for your business, many people like to turn to a local or neighbor rather than a business from another part of town.
5) Give to charity. Visibly donating your products or services to local charities can go a long way in generating goodwill and a strong community presence. Sponsoring community or charitable events such as a local parade, craft fair, or a youth sports team or league is a great way to encourage WOM referrals from the participants. Just make sure your generosity is prominently noted in large type or a large logo. Better yet, get a picture of you handing a check to the charity published in the local media.
6) Give of yourself. Don’t limit your business to donating money or goods and services. Give of yourself and donate your time by taking an active role in community organizations such as sitting on the board of a charity or hospital. Volunteer your time and even your employees’ time to a charitable cause or community program and others will notice.
7) Give free samples or trial discounts. Trying a new product or service is always easier for people when it’s free or they’re getting a significant discount. Many small companies have jumpstarted their WOM referrals with a well-conceived giveaway such as a tasty bite of their product or an inexpensive, well-performed service.
8) Treat customers well. This should go without saying, but if you want people to spread the word and become your brand advocates, you have to deliver exceptional and personalized customer service. Going above and beyond expectations is still the best way for small businesses to compete against the big guys. Ensuring that you and every employee provides superior customer service and addresses problems promptly and satisfactorily every time, will generate positive referrals that can spread quickly.
9) Ask for testimonials. A written testimonial from a satisfied customer endorsing your business can be a powerful tool if used properly. Display them on your collateral, in-store and on your website so prospects know you have plenty of satisfied customers. Don’t be afraid to ask for a testimonial or a referral after a job or order has been completed. People rarely take the time to write about a positive experience unless you ask them. Get in the habit of asking happy customers for testimonials and it will be a subtle way of suggesting you’d appreciate their referrals down the road.
10) Rewards for referrals. Consider developing some sort of referral rewards or program to encourage your best customers to tell their friends all about your business. Provide referring customers a discount or premium for each new customer they send your way. You not only get the new customer, but by giving the loyal one a discount, you all but ensure the loyal one will return to use that reward. Old school still works. Referrals and word of mouth marketing are the life blood of most successful businesses today. But you don’t have to be an online guru to network and generate word of mouth referrals. Many of these tried and true techniques are still being used every day in countless industries to drum up business. When combined with social media tools, online and offline networking and WOM referrals can pack a powerful one-two punch.